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Water is Life: Habitat Water Features


Water is Life: Habitat Water Features

By Sabrina Howell

Last summer a new bird moved into my backyard. He flitted about, doing amazing acrobatics over my pond, catching insects that had arrived to lay their eggs in the water. From dragonflies to gnats and other tasty tidbits I could not see, he feasted daily while doing flips and push-offs from the fence like a skateboarder.

During these days of drought, we do not need to feel that water features in our gardens are out of place ethically or aesthetically. Wildlife are affected by the drought. Adding even a small water feature to your garden can make the difference between surviving or not for many creatures. You can make a difference to the wildlife-- not just for birds, but everything from pollinators, dragonflies and frogs to the larger animals. Just as it is important to plant for pollinators, it is important to provide a healthy water source.

Aesthetically, water features are a great enhancement to any style garden, even drought tolerant gardens. There are many innovative designs that blend well in our new, water-conscious landscapes. Water features do not need to be large, tropical designs to be effective. Even small water features can add musical sound, reflection and a lush allure for humans while providing a necessary resource to wildlife.

Suitably designed water features are the key. There are several aspects to keep in mind for providing water to wildlife. Years of working with water features has left me with a pet peeve: The Ring of Death. The most commonly advertised backyard water feature consists of a hole in the ground with steep sides ringed with stones. Presumably the stones are to cover the unsightly water holding material and make it more “natural looking”. This style does not mimic nature and is actually dangerous.

Natural water sources have shallow edges of sand, soil, plants, occasional stones of a variety of sizes and perhaps a fallen tree. Mammals, birds and even humans need a shallow approach to get in, and most importantly, out of the water. Shallow water access allows creatures to wade in a few inches to easily drink, wash and hunt. Butterflies love to land at the water’s edge, uncurl their long proboscis and gently tap the sand to remove the moisture between the grains. Consider creating at least one shallow edge to your water feature. If you have a wine barrel or other steep-sided pond, make sure that there are LOTS of plants to aid small creatures to get in and out of the water.

For more guidance on how to achieve safer water habitats or suggestions on how to add a water source to fit your garden, please come by Wild Toad Nursery, 3525 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa where advice is free. We will be holding a workshop on backyard water features March 21st. For more information, please check our website,

Water is life, and with some careful planning, we can successfully mimic nature to safely provide for wildlife and conserve one of our greatest resources.